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Better Hygiene Can Reduce Cervical Cancer Rates
Capitalist considerations may blight distribution of cervical cancer vaccines
Alexander Krabbe (AlexKrabbe)     Print Article 
Published 2006-06-18 01:33 (KST)   
Three years ago in Spring 2003 news of a possibly revolutionary vaccine made the rounds of the scientific press. It was suggested that humanity would be able to fight a deadly cancer type in women with just a simple vaccination.

In Australia tests of a vaccine against cervical cancer had been successful, leading to hopes for the extermination of one of the most common female cancers.

People at high risk of developing cervical cancer, including prostitutes, were included among the many test subjects. According to the study's results, five years after vaccination no woman in the vaccinated group showed any signs of developing cancerous or pre-cancerous cells in her cervix.

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Rates of cancerous and pre-cancerous cells in the unvaccinated placebo group appeared at the same percentage as in the common population. No serious side effects of the vaccine were observed.

It looked as if two subtypes of the human papilloma virus family (HPV), type 16 and 18, which are responsible for more than 70 percent of all cervical cancers, were about to lose their grip on humankind.

HPV 6 and 11, responsible for genital warts both in males and females, were also targeted by the vaccine.

In November 2004 a subsequent study was completed at the Norris Cotton Cancer Center and Dartmouth Medical School in the U.S. state of New Hampshire. Only the license for this smart weapon against the retro viruses HPV 16 and 18, which by DNA modification change normal cells into cancer cells, was needed.

2006: HPV 16/18 vaccine licensed for sale by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration

In early June the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued the license for the cervical cancer vaccine. Under the name Gardasil it will be distributed by the pharmaceutics company Merck & Co.

The company, which seems to be pushing humanity towards a great victory against cervical cancer, is less than altruistic. During the Rofecoxib (Vioxx) scandal it became clear that Merck & Co had early knowledge of serious cardio- vascular side effects from the drug, such as deadly heart attacks, but withheld this knowledge for about four years. This was revealed by The Lancet in 2004.

GlaxoSmithKline's vaccine is also near to being licensed.

When it comes to profits, the love of money outguns the rights of man. Is it any different with the HPV 16/18 vaccine?

What is cervical cancer?

The cervix is located at the top end of the vagina. Two different types of inner lining cell material meet at this point of the female body, causing an unstable cell region in which cancer can easily develop. The presence of HP-viruses is all that is needed to finally cause malignant cell deformations.

Cervical cancer can be asymptomatic in its earliest stages, when it is most easily treated. According to the work of Canavan & Doshi, 2000, 4,800 women in the U.S. die of the disease annually and 12,800 women are diagnosed.

Human papilloma viruses are transmitted mainly, but not exclusively, by sexual intercourse and thus considered an STI (Sexually transmitted infection).

One out of a million men will get cancer of the penis due to papilloma viruses; rates are much higher in countries with low hygiene standards.

The first problem: Selection pressure

Following the news in 2003, I began to research the fight against HPV 16 and 18. I interviewed two experts from the University of Greifswald, the director of the institute for gynecology and the director of the institute for microbiology, asking them what they thought about this apparently revolutionary innovation.

Both agreed that wiping out only HPV 16 and 18, the virus subtypes responsible for over 70 percent of all cervical cancers, will very probably lead to selection pressure. This means the HPVs which cause the remaining cervical cancers could become as prevalent as HPV 16 and 18 are at this present time.

There is currently not enough research to prove this thesis wrong. Only long term observation will make it clear whether, for example, the new vaccine also targets the remaining dangerous HPV family members, such as HPV 31, 33, 42, 52 and 58.

The rich and the poor

In Europe about 15,000 women die of cervical cancer every year. As mentioned above, in the U.S. around 4,800 women are killed annually by the disease.

Worldwide 200,000 people die from cervical cancer every year, 90 percent of cases are found in poor countries in Asia and Africa.

Each vaccine will cost about 300 euro (US$378). In order to extinguish HPV 16 and 18 every single person between the age of 9 to 26 would have to be vaccinated, including males because they transmit the virus to women.

This means vaccinating between 3 and 4 billion people, costing between 900 billion and 1,200 billion euro. Imagine the extraordinary profits for Merck & Co and GlaxoSmithKline. Just think of their exploding stock values.

However, at present the vaccine is only intended for use in females.

So will the citizens of rich countries force their governments to increase the budgets for development aid? Or will the taxpayers, with regard to their personal financial interests, oppose such actions?

It could be so simple if...

The chief reason for the prevalence of cervical cancer in developing countries is lack of education and clean water.

If men and boys are educated about the causes of cervical cancer and have access to a hygienic water supply, they will be able to change their habits and help fight the disease.

Cervical cancer can be combatted if all men wash their penises after urination and before sexual intercourse. The water would wash the HPV viruses and other dangerous pathogens down the drain. Condoms should also be used if couples are not attempting to conceive children.

If all sexually active males follow these simple instructions, cervical cancer will become much less common. Once the cancer causing viruses are inside the woman it is far more difficult to find a solution.
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©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Alexander Krabbe

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